Drunken Hijinks and Homicide in Rochester's Sibley Building

Drunken Hijinks and Homicide in Rochester's Sibley Building

This article was scraped from Rochester Subway. This is a blog about Rochester history and urbanism has not been published since 2017. The current owners are now publishing link spam which made me want to preserve this history.. The original article was published October 05, 2012 and can be found here.

This was the Sibley Building office, and murder scene, of J. Frank O'Connor, a tailor merchant. A sewing machine and its table have been knocked over and lie in front of the radiator. The cutting table is at the right. A lower table, on the left, holds a bolt of fabric, a pressing board for sleeves, and an electric iron. A chair and a box of material sit in front of the lower table. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

   J. Frank O'Connor, known by his clients and friends as "Scrappy" O'Connor, was a merchant tailor. After a long weekend of partying, he would be murdered during a drunken battle in his office (shown above) on the second floor of Rochester's Sibley Building. O'Connor's body was found about 6:00 p.m., Monday, August 28, 1922. These are actual crime scene photos by Albert R. Stone...

The floor of the closet in J. Frank O'Connor's tailor shop is full of gin bottles. Clothing under construction hangs in the closet. Several straight chairs stand around the room. The glass in the door to the room has been shattered. In the far right corner, beyond the table with a bolt of cloth, a pressing board, and a whisk broom, is the sink where the murderer supposedly washed his hands. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

   O'Connor was widely known around Rochester for arranging parties with women and liquor for his wealthy and prominent friends; many of the parties were held in his Sibley office. He also owned a tailor shop on the corner of Main and Stillson. Notice the empty liquor bottles in the photo above? Investigators said they found nearly 50 empty gin bottles in the office. Remember, this is during     Prohibition    .

A large pool of blood marks the spot where J. Frank 'Scrappy' O'Connor bled to death. A pile of rags lies on the floor nearby. In the background is the room with a sink where the assailant washed his hands, stepping over O'Connor's body in order to do so. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

   At first his death was thought to be linked to two women heard arguing over him at about 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, August 27. However, on August 29, 1922, Owen DeForest DeWitt, a millionaire "clubman" and real estate dealer (shown below), was arrested for first degree murder after being found drunk in Syracuse at the Ondondaga Hotel. DeWitt, 45, lived at     14 Gramercy Park

external link

in Rochester's Browncroft     neighborhood    .

Owen DeWitt looks haggard in this photograph taken after his arraignment in City Court for the murder of J. Frank O'Connor. Not surprisingly, he said he had no recollection of any murder. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

It was later reported in the Rochester Herald that both men, in a drunken daze, battled in the office rooms. O'Connor evidently struck his head on the floor, and as his blood oozed from the wounds, made by his fall against the glass of the show case, DeWitt washed his hands and left the office. According to     this article in the Syracuse NY Journal

external link

on Wednesday, August 30, 1922, DeWitt admitted meeting O'Connor that fateful day, but said he did not remember being involved any altercation.

Mrs. Grace M. Begy (shown below) of 70 Stillson Street was held as a material witness for selling gin to DeWitt after the killing. It was reported that DeWitt staggered from the Sibley Building at 5 o'clock and had drinks at Mrs. Begy's 'Prohibition saloon' on Stillson Street - while O'Connor was bleeding to death back at the office. Witnesses said DeWitt literally fell into a taxi and then took a train for Syracuse."

Mrs. Grace Begy ran a 'Prohibition saloon' at 70 Stillson Street. She was called as a material witness in the murder case against Owen DeWitt for the death of J. Frank O'Connor. I bet she's got some stories to tell. [PHOTO: Albert R. Stone Collection]

Oh, the stories a 1920's prohibition saloon owner could tell.

Chris Gemignani

Chris Gemignani

Rochester, NY, USA